This is topic Sugar in forum Books, Films, Food and Culture at Hatrack River Forum.

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Posted by Lisa (Member # 8384) on :
Is Sugar Toxic?

I like sugar. A lot. I like candybars and Coke and stuff with brown sugar in it. I'm also fat. Is this guy just a scare-monger? Are there studies that say he's wrong?
Posted by Synesthesia (Member # 4774) on :
Everything is toxic in high doses. I say HFCS is way worse than real, natural sugar in moderation.

As I eat delicious sugary scones.
Posted by theamazeeaz (Member # 6970) on :
Before this is a HFCS debate, we should note the following:

And by “sugar,” Lustig means not only the white granulated stuff that we put in coffee and sprinkle on cereal — technically known as sucrose — but also high-fructose corn syrup, which has already become without Lustig’s help what he calls “the most demonized additive known to man.”

This quote from the article says it all to me:
When I set out to interview public health authorities and researchers for this article, they would often initiate the interview with some variation of the comment “surely you’ve spoken to Robert Lustig,” not because Lustig has done any of the key research on sugar himself, which he hasn’t, but because he’s willing to insist publicly and unambiguously, when most researchers are not, that sugar is a toxic substance that people abuse.
He's just some guy making a stink because he's decided something. You can't prove a negative.
Posted by Mike (Member # 55) on :
Hi folks, it's been a while. Sorry to resurrect an old thread, but I think this is pretty important and it's surprising to me how confused people get on this issue. So here's a very quick summary of Lustig's position:

Fructose is bad.

And if you want to get a little more detailed, table sugar (sucrose) is bad because it is roughly half fructose. So is HFCS. They are equivalent from a nutritional point of view.

Now I'm not a nutritionist, but from a cursory reading of the wikipedia page on fructose it appears that Lustig is probably right. Unfortunately he is very bad at looking credible, reasoned, or thoughtful: he uses loaded words like "toxic" and he is unapologetically in favor of solutions that are politically unrealistic, such as carding minors for purchasing soda. This leaves him open to character assassinations like this one from ABC News, which in my opinion is ridiculous in the extreme and brings to mind old TV clips that touted the healthful properties of cigarettes, complete with industry shills.

If you're curious to hear the guy himself talk, here's his hour-and-a-half lecture: . Warning: video may contain hyperbole and/or unsubstantiated claims.
Posted by CT (Member # 8342) on :
Does he address the rate-limiting enzymatic step of phosphofructokinase, which fructose bypasses?

Because the processing of fructose involves different physiology than the processing of glucose for this reason. Fructose doesn't have the same built-in brakes in its processes that glucose does.
Posted by Mike (Member # 55) on :
You mean, with regard to the question of why fructose metabolism is more harmful than glucose metabolism, even though fructose is a metabolite of glucose? I think so, but it's actually been a while since I've watched the video. I'll try to take another look at it tonight.

Also, please correct me if I'm wrong about anything — I'm pretty fuzzy on the details.
Posted by CT (Member # 8342) on :
Yeah -- it's a side question, so don't spend valuable time time on it, Mike. But I do have concerns about fructose sweetening (e.g., in some fructose-sweetened candies, etc.) that go beyond my concerns for glucose.

Fructose enters the glycolytic (carbohydrate breakdown) pathway past the primary regulatory step of glycolysis, which is the action of phosphofructokinase. Phosphofructokinase is regulated pretty tightly, and this makes for a check on the metabolism of glucose. On the other hand, fructose enters the glycolytic pathway relatively unchecked.
Posted by Mike (Member # 55) on :
I just re-watched the part of the video where he compares the metabolism of glucose, ethanol, and fructose respectively, from 44:56 to 1:08:27. He doesn't mention phosphofructokinase rate limiting (I don't think).

The concern of fructose metabolism seems to be mostly the higher overall caloric load on the liver and the large proportion of the calories that end up as VLDL through de novo lipogenesis. Plus there's also uric acid production which contributes to hypertension, increased insulin resistance, and increased leptin resistance which limits satiety signals.

Again, I'm not a biologist or in any way an expert, so I'd love to have confirmation that this is for real.

Btw, hi CT, it's been a while! [Wave]

Also, ETA: while the guy is prone to sensationalizing, he does seem to cite his sources pretty well.
Posted by odouls268 (Member # 2145) on :
Fat doesn't make you fat. Sugar makes you fat. ...And happy.

...So I'm told.

(The preceding statement is for entertainment only. It is not medical or dietary advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for medical or dietary advice. It is not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any disease or condition.)

Ahh the wonders of the 2011 litigious society. Orwell was so right, and yet, so wrong.
Posted by CT (Member # 8342) on :
Hi, Mike! [Wave]

I'm trying to limit additional sweeteners of all kinds in my food, anyway. Tastebuds can be [retrained], yes, they can.

[ July 17, 2011, 01:43 PM: Message edited by: CT ]
Posted by El JT de Spang (Member # 7742) on :
This is primarily why I've been trying to limit my intake of starches and artificial sweeteners of any kind. Any food or drink that can basically be broken down as being all sugar I'm trying to avoid, both for weight loss and general health. It's difficult, because they're delicious.
Posted by CT (Member # 8342) on :
I am getting some personal mileage out of the research showing that the first 1 or 2 bites of a treat give the most pleasure. People don't seem to report as much pleasure from subsequent bites (at least, not when they have to consciously assess it), but we seem to go on mindlessly eating it anyway.

D and I make a point of sharing infrequent but delicious treats in small portions. I'd rather do that than eat more of things sweetened in other ways, regardless of how it is done. I'm wary of the hunger that comes with artificial sweeteners, and I like looking forward to treats as special occasions.

We're expanding our vegetable portion of the plate, meanwhile. Last night we added a delicious salad of carrots, olives, scallions, and hot pepper, sweetened with a few orange slices. Paying attention to the sweetness heightened the flavor.
Posted by CT (Member # 8342) on :
Originally posted by Mike:

Also, ETA: while the guy is prone to sensationalizing, he does seem to cite his sources pretty well.

Thanks for tracking all this down, Mike.

It looks like he is a pediatric endocrinologist from California. I'd expect him to know his stuff.

Added: no guarantees, but that training certainly means he should know what to look for and how to support it.
Posted by theCrowsWife (Member # 8302) on :
Originally posted by CT:
Tastebuds can be [retrained], yes, they can.

This is so very true. I've been working on sugar consumption for probably five years or so, and now I don't even like most commercial sweet products (cakes, cookies, candies, etc). They just taste too overwhelmingly sweet, and often give me an instant headache after just a couple of bites. Even with homemade treats, I frequently find that I can reduce the sugar by about half and still have something that tastes good, especially if I make a point of using quality ingredients so that the sugar doesn't have to cover up any off-flavors.

The way people react to the whole fructose thing is kind of weird to me, though. The idea that HFCS is bad for you seems to have gotten popular enough that there are now alternatives popping up, but so many of them don't seem to be any real improvement. Sweetened with concentrated fruit juice? That's still fructose, so I don't really see how that's better than HFCS.

Posted by CT (Member # 8342) on :
I know, Mel! I have a relative with diabetes whose choses things that are "naturally sweetened with grape juice." It's still sugar, and it still presents her endocrine system with the same challenges. But she is sparing with it, and there is no point in arguing.

I don't know enough about HFCS to comment with any authority, but I have wondered if a higher-than-usual fructose concentration, coupled with bypassing phosphofructokinase regulation, might pose additional challenges to the system. But that's just wondering, and I have only so many brain cells left.

I think I'll just stick with decreasing the sweet load in general.
Posted by Mike (Member # 55) on :
Originally posted by CT:
Thanks for tracking all this down, Mike.

You're welcome. [Smile] I remembered seeing this video a while back and it came up in conversation with a friend who is just getting into eating more healthily and responsibly, so I decided to track it down again. But when I did I was surprised at how seemingly controversial it is, so I wanted to get a second opinion.

To me the weirdest thing how so many people get the most basic things wrong. It's like this, paraphrased:

Lustig: fructose is a toxin and is the cause of the obesity epidemic.
Corn lobby: but HFCS is as safe as sugar!
Lustig: sugar is just as bad, it has fructose too.
General public: I'm confused. *chugs a Vitamin Water*

Or this:

ABC News: hey everyone, look at this loon who says sugar is a poison!

Even Taubes, who wrote the article Lisa linked and even a whole book on the subject seems to miss the point and concentrate on HFCS.
Posted by Stone_Wolf_ (Member # 8299) on :
I love Coke Zero...not because of less calories, but because of the taste. I prefer it to regular coke. I hate diet anything...

I've heard it rumored that the way your body processes the fake sugar in coke zero and other diet drinks is just as bad if not worse then real real sure or HFCS...but have never looked into it.

Anyone know any good facts they care to share?
Posted by Teshi (Member # 5024) on :
As a total layperson, I've always gone by the rule that both sugars and fats consumed in large doses contribute to increased weight.

I worked at a private school where very, very few children were heavy and none were grotesquely obese. They were, for the most part, skinny active children.

That didn't mean they didn't enjoy or consume sweets. They pretty much had dessert every day at school, and they also ate sausages and other fatty meats for lunch along with other cooked foods. But they ate it in small controlled doses, candy was banned from the school and they drunk water, not sugar-heavy juice. And then they ran around a lot.

Banning candy, soda and juice from all schools would be a start. But then the rest is parental education-- and that's why it shows up in the socio-economic background of schools. Sad!

Small children do not need to drink juice-- and yet they so frequently do. Older children should be allowed juice and soda but only in regulated doses (orange juice for breakfast, for example) and on special occaisions (Friday family dinner?). People should eat at home almost all the time rather than in a restaurant. Children should go out to play before dinner and should have more time at school in organized play (although it doesn't have to be serious sport).

Some people put on weight more easily, but from what I've seen feeding people soda and juice and massive Starbucks sugary lattes and then sending them back to sit down is going to make them rotund. I think people focus on what they eat and then forget that what they drink contains far more sugar (or fat, in the case of a gingerbread latte or whatever) than the average doughnut.

ETA: I think that the strength of coffee at Starbucks and equivalents has contributed to people disliking it and so ordering something with a million sugars in it. For the record, you can half or quarter the sugars in any of the sweetened lattes and you still won't taste the coffee.

Or you can ask to have the coffee with more milk or diluted a little.

Not to mention, you can substitute skim milk for 2% in frothy lattes and most people won't notice particularly.
Posted by Samprimary (Member # 8561) on :
From the beginning of this whole controversy, I've viewed all types of sugars as the same hateful, wonderful beast. I could care less about what form the sugar takes, I have an upper limit that I don't cross.

It's not like grains, which have extremely different properties based on whether they are refined or whole. It's sugar. Too much sugar is bad. End of lecture?
Posted by lobo (Member # 1761) on :
All I know is that Dr. Pepper made with cane sugar does not taste as good as regular Dr. Pepper (made with HFCS)...
Posted by Lisa (Member # 8384) on :
FWIW, the first 9 weeks I spent off sugar (not 100% off; I still eat bread that has some sugar in it, but I only drink milk or water and don't eat anything that isn't mostly sugar free), I lost 9 lbs. I did not exercise any more than usual (which means most of the calories burned were from walking downstairs to the kitchen), and I didn't change my eating habits at all other than the sugar. Same amount of fat, same portion sizes, same everything.

That's a pound a week effortlessly, just from cutting the sugar.
Posted by Annie (Member # 295) on :
This is all great information, but it's also important to recognize the factors that make studying nutrition so tricky. First of all, it's really really hard to do good dietary studies because we are humans, we eat all the time, every day, and it's hard to keep track of what large numbers of subjects eat all the time, every day, for years.

So what we do is we break things down into chemical compounds and nutrients and do studies on those, but then we've isolated the nutrient from its incredibly complex natural environment: whole foods composed of lots of nutrients. This is why nutritional studies can seem so contradictory; because so much depends on context.

Take, for example, the big freakout about cholesterol in eggs. Egg yolks had a lot of cholesterol so everyone started eating egg whites and egg beaters and all sorts of synthetic substitutes. Then, years later, it was found that there are enzymes in the egg white that actually break down the cholesterols found in the egg yolk.

This is why it's important to not eat by nutrients (and particularly to not think that you're being safe and healthy by eating large amounts of a synthetic substitute for a "bad" nutrient) and to eat sensibly, relying on whole foods.

That said, there are indeed pretty well verified studies that refined sugars, HFCS, and separated flours (white flour with the germ and the bran removed) have a high correlation with the Western diseases. The China Study is pretty compelling if you want to get into that.

Have you read Michael Pollan yet? Read Michael Pollan. It all boils down to: Eat (real) food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

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